Sunday, October 2, 2011

'Tec Support: "The Million Dollar Debut of Batgirl!" (Focus On Batgirl)

Created by a trio of comics legends, editor Julius Schwartz, writer Gardner Fox and artist Carmine Infantino, at the behest of Batman TV series producer William Dozier, who was looking for a female character to appeal to that segment of the TV audience, the new--and "real", as we're told in a caption--Batgirl (there had been a previous character called Bat-Girl in the late 50's and early 60's) met the comics reading public in the January 1967 issue of Detective Comics, #359, in a story entitled "The Million Dollar Debut of Batgirl!"   The introduction of Batgirl, incidentally, was not the first change made in the comics to accomodate the TV series.  One of Schwartz's first moves on assuming editorship of the Batman books was to kill off Bruce Wayne's butler, Alfred.  However, he and Fox were compelled to bring the character back to life when the producers wanted to include him in the show.
The story moves quickly, giving us just a two panel introduction to Barbara Gordon, the previously unseen and unmentioned librarian daughter of Gotham City Police Commissioner James Gordon, before she dons her Batgirl costume and is off to the Policeman's Masqerade Ball.  Setting off  for the ball, Barbara thinks that "...tonight will be the highlight of my life!"  She's right, of course, but not quite in the way she was thinking of.  A funny thing happens on the way to the party, when she sees Killer Moth's minions attempting to put the snatch on "...Daddy's millionaire friend" Bruce Wayne.  Proving that "clothes make the woman," she leaps into action to save Wayne, allowing the millionaire to slip away and change to Batman.  The Caped Crusader ends up having to rescue Batgirl while Killer Moth escapes. Her costume messed up in the fight, Batgirl tells Batman she won't be going to the masqerade after all, but holds back on telling him her name, despite thinking to herself that this might be both Batgirl's "...debut and farewell appearance..."
She soon finds, however, that after her brush with crimefighting, the fast paced life of the librarian just doesn't thrill her the way it used to.  Then one night, Barbara goes to deliver a rare book to Bruce Wayne and sees him apparently murdered by Killer Moth.  She once again goes into action as Batgirl, but soon learns that her interference has spoiled the Dynamic Duo's plans to follow Killer Moth back to his hideout.  Nonetheless, it turns out, somewhat predictably, I'll admit, that despite her initial blunder, it is Batgirl whose nick of time arrival at Killer Moth's lair serves to save Batman and Robin's bacon and capture the villain.
If, as the conventional wisdom among comics fans holds, the intentionally campy tone of the TV series had infected the comics, it is not much in evidence in this issue.  True, Killer Moth, with his themed henchmen Larva and Pupa, is a silly villain, and Robin spouts a couple of truly dreadful puns, while, at one point, daring to criticize Batgirl's "terrible puns."  For the most part, however, "The Million Dollar Debut of Batgirl!" is a fairly straightforward, serious minded adventure story, thanks to Fox's fast-paced and witty script and Infantino's suitably dark and moody artwork.
Quite a few of the "important" stories of the Silver Age--the first appearance of the Teen Titans springs to mind--are worth reading only for their significance to comics history.  Detective #359 is not one of those issues, though.  "The Million Dollar Debut of Batgirl!" stands on its own, aside from its place in history, as an entertaining and fun Batman story.
In a future post, I'll take a look at Batgirl's second first appearance, in the third season premiere of the Batman TV show.


  1. The comics never got quite as self-consciously silly or campy as the TV show, although the show did have some influence. And the difference between the comics and the TV series was more a matter of degree than direction. Look at issues of Batman and the Flash from 1964-65 (before the TV series premiered) and you will see colorful villains, themed henchmen, and melodramatic narration. While reading captions, you can almost hear William Dozier saying, "Meanwhile, at their lair, the dastardly villain plots his nefarious plan..."

  2. I regularly uphold the beauty of the television series, and it's enormous impact on all classic 60s comics.. It made it possible for the comics industry to grow in leaps, bringing us the likes of both Marvel and DC classics, Adams and Steranko, you name it.

    Give it it's due, folks.

    Besides for the Batman title.., everyone seems to conveniently forget just how dreadful it was prior to the TV show.. (outer space Batman, Bathound, Batmite, urgggg...), AND AT THE POINT OF CANCELLATION..

    Despite the arrogance, Batfans really need to remember just how crucial this show was. Sure, without it, Batman could have simply been cancelled (like Hawkman or something) and come back fresh a few years later.

    But with no groundswell the series brought in merchandising, Captain Action, Marvel Cartoons, and of course the Bat-craze.., would the comic industry (or DC) have been successful enough.. to even care...?

    Perhaps, perhaps not.